On the trail of honey and dust in Rome

When Rosemary, a lovely beekeeper at our apiary, gave me a book about the true story of a man who discovers the wonders of bees and honey on a farm in Italy, I packed it in my flight bag for a trip to Rome. I should have sub-titled this post: ‘A beekeeper in Rome’, because it is the story of my Roman holiday and the book that accompanied my travels.

Honey and Dust: Travels in search of sweetness by Piers Moore Ede begins as Piers, a young British environmentalist writer, is seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident in San Francisco and loses sense of his life’s purpose. He goes to recuperate on a farm owned by a beekeeper in Italy and rediscovers his passion for life with the help of Gunther and his bees.

Hillside views seen from the Colleseum. The opening chapters of Honey and Dust set in rural Italy were exciting in-flight reading on my way to Rome.

One sunny afternoon, Piers and Gunther take a walk, through a copse of trees, to a thicket of rosemary bushes, to where Gunther keeps his beehives. The gentle Italian bees are busy foraging nectar from the heavy-scented rosemary, ‘Rosmarino. Strong honey’. Gunther cuts a wedge of honeycomb from one of the hives to share with Piers:

‘That was my first taste of honey straight from a hive. We stood there in the clearing, with the afternoon sun warm upon our faces, honey running down our fingers, and let the sweetness wash over our tongues. The honey, indeed, had a strong taste of rosemary, and to see the spiny green bushes right beside us, and then to taste the result here and now, was by no means any great scientific discovery, but it felt strangely wonderful – like an insight into the order of things.’

It is a magical moment for the reader too, and I knew then that I would love this book. By the time our plane landed in Rome, I had joined Piers in the Middle East as he began his quest to find and taste the world’s most wondrous honeys.

A beekeeper in Rome

Rome is an amazing city. The ancient world sits comfortably with the modern world. It has style and glamour alongside history and tradition. The coffee is amazing too.

Rome – The Eternal City.

The story of the ages is told on every street. Here is the Colleseum.

The Papal Swiss Guard at Vatican City is the only Swiss Guard that still exists.

Ah, Roma! Romance in Rome as we come across an Italian TV crew filming a love story.

I like tea not coffee. Italian coffee is delicious!

Sitting with my friends in a cafe overlooking the Colleseum, I reflected how my journey was similar to Piers: exploring a vibrant and beautiful world which in parts has vanished.

A disappearing world

Honey flowed like rivers in ancient times. The Romans were Master Beekeepers with a particular fondness for thyme honey. Virgil and Pliny expounded the health-giving virtues of this golden nectar, and wrote detailed descriptions of beekeeping and the qualities of bees. However, Virgil thought queen bees were kings and warned of finding king cells in hives. The art of beekeeping declined in Ancient Rome with the fall of the Roman Empire.

Piers’ first stop on his tour of the world of apiculture is Beirut, but sadly he encounters varroa early in his journey. Wadih Yazbek, the son of a famous Lebanese beekeeper, explains that the honey-gathering traditions of the mountains was a practice of happier times:

‘It is not just us, the people, who have suffered in this last century. The land itself has taken many savage blows. And the wild bees, in consequence, have grown quiet. Of course, we beekeepers make sure that the bees survive – but in the wild, in caves and trees, they no longer make their homes as they used to. The varroa mite has hit us badly here.’

Piers’ realisation that the honeybees of the wild and domesticated hives are disappearing as colony after colony is ravaged by varroa makes his quest to find honey even sweeter. I finished reading the chapters in the Middle East as our first day in Rome came to an end, sitting in the beautiful gardens of Villa Borghese and enjoying very good Italian ice cream.

Villa Borghese is the second largest public park in Rome with beautiful landscaped gardens and an enchanting lake.

The Temple of Asclepius, the god of medicine, stands in the centre of the lake.

There are hidden fountains…

… and secret terrapin pools.

Vatican – the city of angels and demons

The next day we visited the Vatican – a city in a city – and I heard rumour that the pope keeps his own hives. While I didn’t see a bee, the Vatican experience can only be described as pure sensory overload. You need a guide, and a day, to see the Vatican.

Once inside, I used an entire 8GB memory card on my SLR and it was worth every shot. The highlight was Michaelangelo’s breathtaking Sistine Chapel, which is – indescribable. However, filming is forbidden inside the Sistine Chapel to protect the incandescent artwork, and because the Vatican owns the copyright. I wonder what Michaelangelo would have thought of that?

Inside the Vatican – a hall of gold and light.

Art so beautiful and breathtaking.

Gods and goddesses…

Angels…

… and demons.

Afterwards, we sat quietly inside a family-run restaurant and digested all that we had seen and heard. As a storm threatened to break the sunshine, we were invited to stay past closing time to share a complementary bowl of cherries and limoncello.

I took a peek inside my book to see what Piers was doing in Nepal. What struck me as I read Honey and Dust was the easy connections that Piers made with everyone he met. Whether visiting noisy war-torn capitals or the rooftop of the world, people warm to the young writer and invite him into their homes to share a unique insight into their hidden lives.

Out of the storm – we are welcomed into a family restaurant.

Limoncello and cherries! A risky combination.

That evening we climbed the turrets of Castel Sant’Angelo, went for tapas and enjoyed drinks in a restaurant opposite the Pantheon. I went to bed exhausted, and not sure if I was excited to wake for Rome or Piers’ trek with Nepalese honey hunters through dense forests.

The Pantheon by moonlight.

Italian wine best enjoyed on a warm evening in Rome.

Falling in love with Rome 

On Sunday morning we stumbled across mass at the Pantheon on our way to the Fountain de Trevi. The Pantheon is one of the best preserved buildings of Ancient Rome. The rotunda uses an intricate honeycombed structure of hidden chambers to strengthen its walls.

I stood at the entrance of the Pantheon watching as thousands of rose petals were poured through the oculi of the dome and tumbled down the shafts of sunlight.

The Pantheon was built to honour all the gods of Ancient Rome.

Rose petals falling from the oculi during mass.

The breathtaking Fountain de Trevi.

After tossing a coin in the waters of the Fountain de Trevi to make a wish, we separated to take our own mini adventures before meeting for lunch at the Campo de’ Fiori, or the Square of Flowers.

Picturesque streets.

Pastoral scenes.

Wall flowers.

City views.

People-watching.

I arrived before my friends and sat in the shade enjoying Sicilian lemonade with a spot of people-watching and reading.

Intrepid travellers

Piers was doing some people-watching of his own, sitting with laughing Nepalese children as intrepid honey hunters scaled a mountainside. The passage was the most absorbing in the book. It was incredible to imagine that this is how beekeepers in faraway parts of the world collect honey. Piers’ own life and brush with death is brought into perspective:

‘At times I could barely watch. The margin for error was simply too small. Every man here had his life in the balance, and yet the seeming levity with which they worked made it seem as if they didn’t care. It brought my own small encounter with mortality into the sharpest focus. Did these men fear death so little because of its constant proximity in their lives? And why do we, in the developed world, fear death so much? It also highlighted, as clearly as anything could, just how far man will go for the sensation of sweetness on his tongue. Quite simply, they were prepared to risk their lives for it.’

Once collected, wild Nepalese honey presents a further risk from the deadly rhododendron flowers that the bees forage in spring. Piers waits for the honey hunters to taste-test their hard-won nectar before sipping the ‘wondrous toxic honey’ with traces of poisonous pollen. He soon feels the effects:

‘It resembled drunkenness at first, but then became visual, like a magic mushroom trip I remembered from university. Painted dots were dripping across my irises like technicolor rain. My body felt light and tingly, filled with warm rushes and heat-bursts. It was wild and strangely wonderful.’

The relentless afternoon heat in Rome made my friends and me feel a little dazed, so we took Sunday afternoon at a slower pace and wandered past the Spanish Steps. As a Londoner I appreciated a city that was bustling but also relaxed. Italians seem to take life at their own pace and there is always time for coffee and cake.

Egyptian obelisk at Campo de’ Fiori (the British didn’t take this one).

Roman soldiers.

The Spanish Steps.

My Bulgarian friend Dani, mistaken for the mysterious ‘Russian lady’, charms the local police for a photo. If you arrest us, can we stay?

Return to the dust world

I finished reading Honey and Dust before our flight back to London, following Piers’ spiritual journey through Sri Lanka and India. In-flight entertainment was offered by re-reading the passages that describe the secret life inside the hive:

‘It all starts with nectar,* a sweet, sticky substance produced by flowers, and loved, above all, by bees. Probing inside the flower, the bee sucks up this sugary substance and stores it in a ‘honey sac’ – essentially a second stomach. Flitting from flower to flower until the honey sac is full, the bee then returns to the hive…  One jar of honey is also the result of about 80,000 trips between flower and hive, the result of about 55,000 miles of flight, and the nectar from around 2 million flowers.’

Back home in London, I missed Rome but I was left with wonderful memories and Honey and Dust would forever be indelibly entwined with my trip.

The Vatican in light and shadow.

As a beekeeper, I found Nepal to be the real beating heart of the book, which brought to life the ancient practices of our craft carefully preserved by forest tribes who are themselves fading from the roar of encroaching civilisation.

Honey and Dust is an enchanting read that I highly recommend to beekeepers and to anyone who is interested bees and honey, but with a word of warning that once tasted you will become addicted to the sweet world of the bee.

A final word on Rome – you will love it.

Related links

Honey and Dust: Travels in search of sweetness
Piers Moore Ede
Published by Bloomsbury, London: 2006
ISBN 0-7475-7967-9

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Bees do read books

Last week we left a small gap between the brood box and crown board to let our bees munch on a bit of honeycomb. When we opened the hive today we found out that our bees do read the books after all…

Golden rolling waves of rogue honeycomb

‘Give bees a space and they will fill it.’

Our ladies built these beautiful honeycomb structures in less than a week and were already filling them with honey.

Sadly we had to take away their handiwork as we needed to remove the gap and close the brood box. A few puffs of smoke persuaded our bees to leave their newly made larder, which we scraped off with our hive tools…

Our bees enjoy making their own honeycomb creations free from the foundation of the frames

I enjoy seeing our bees build rogue comb because it gives a clue about what it might be like inside a wild honeybee colony.

It won’t be long before we close our hives for winter. I will miss seeing our bees’ cute faces peering up at us, but we’ll catch glimpses of them nibbling fondant under the roof.

Between now and then, we’ll need to keep feeding them lots of syrup to make sure that they have enough stores inside the brood box for overwintering. We found five frames of honey in Rosemary’s hive today. Each colony needs about 35lb of honey and I read that one frame weighs about 6.5lb, so we are nearly there.

It started to spit with rain before we could open Lavender’s hive so we topped up the feeder with ambrosia syrup and left our ladies to enjoy a sugary slurp.

The secret beekeepers

Secret goings on inside the hive by our September bees

Every second Saturday of the month, Ealing’s beekeepers have a workshop at the scout hut. While the apiary is free of visitors, Emily and I can do some secret beekeeping.

At this time of year we need to check that our hives have enough stores. One hive needs about 35lb of honey for winter. When I hefted our hives a few weeks ago they felt a little light, so I have been feeding both colonies syrup twice a week and it has made a real difference. Emily has written a great post about feeding bees for winter: Some good advice.

Our bees squirrel away stores for winter

We got our lavender-scented smoker roaring with flames, although we only need a few puffs for our ladies. Rosemary’s hive was very busy as usual. Bees were frantically flying in and out overloaded with bright golden and orange pollen, trying to make the most of the last days of sunshine.

It took both our hive tools to get the crown board off Rosemary’s hive. This is why…

Our ladies were too busy sticking propolis on frames to notice that we had opened the hive

Our ladies were so busy chewing and sticking propolis to the top bars of the frames that they barely glanced up to say hello. Propolis is a resin that bees collect from trees to seal up the hive for winter. You can buy it in health-food stores as a supplement to boost the immune system because of its anti-microbial properties. We don’t harvest the propolis from our hives as London bees have a tendency to collect resin from road tar and roofs. Not very healthy!

I lifted out the dummy board to find that a foil lid from an Apiguard tray had been stuck down with propolis. Our bees are like Wombles, they investigate everything that they find inside the hive!

Foragers push their sisters out of the way looking for a place to unload. You can see some larvae cosily curled up here too (pink arrow)

Rosemary’s hive has about five frames of honey and six frames of worker brood (they have stopped making drone). I think this colony will be strong and healthy going into winter. We say plenty of forager bees waddling on the frames. They look funny trying to walk with heavy baskets of pollen, and I noticed that they elbow other bees out of the way looking for a cell to unload their shopping.

Bees use pollen as a source of protein and not just for making beautiful patterns for us to admire…

Autumnal varieties of pollen tightly packed into cells

Emily spotted Rosemary running across a frame, alive and well, but her blue dot is hard to spot. Here she is…

The camera spotted Rosemary even if I didn't! Our queen is marked with a blue dot on her back that is quite difficult to spot

We took the honey off this hive at the beginning of August, but left a space between the brood and the super to encourage our bees to take the remaining honey into the brood. They mostly cooperated, but there was one frame that still had a patch of precious honey.

Mmm, it's all about the honey!

I used my hive tool to scoop out the honeycomb and placed it on the top bars of the brood. It didn’t take long for our ladies to start chowing down. We left Rosemary’s hive happily munching on fresh comb oozing with golden-amber honey. Mmmm.

'Gosh! Where did all this honey come from? Rub it all over yer face!'

A little wasp was spotted loitering, so we were careful that she didn’t sneak inside as we closed the hive.

Wasps are starving at this time of year and desperately scavenging for food. This little wasp sat so quietly and innocently as we inspected our hive – she almost looked cute. Almost

We opened Lavender’s hive to find the bees had taken all the syrup that I gave them on Thursday (only two days ago) and were desperately poking their tongues through the feeder trying to get the last sugary drops.

'I can just reach it'

Last week Emily and I wondered if Lavender had mated with Albert’s New Zealand drones, because our ladies looked lighter and more golden in colour. Here is the proof…

Evidence! Our golden ladies have built a Kiwi-bee style conservatory in the roof

We opened the hive to find that our bees have built a conservatory in the roof – identical to the little hang-out that Albert’s bees have built in their hive! Sadly we had to remove their play area as we don’t want them to store honeycomb in the roof for winter. Emily observed that our bees seem to enjoy making their own comb. I suggested that we experiment next year by alternating frames with and without foundation – we’ll have a 50:50 chance of either practice working.

Lavender seems to have taken after her mother and sister. She is a hard-working queen who has produced quite a lot of brood in the past few weeks and who continues to give us gentle-natured bees.

Lavender has been hard at work creating lots of winter bees

The honeycomb in the last frame was flat and hard on one side. ‘This is the dance floor,’ said Emily. ‘The bees sometimes store propolis in the last comb to make a flat, hard surface for the waggle dances to be heard throughout the hive.’ Bees are so clever!

A propolis 'dance floor' for bees to communicate by vibrating messages to the rest of the hive. Genius

On the other side of the frame we saw foragers head-butting pollen of many varieties tightly into cells.

Lavender's ladies are still finding sources of blue and grey pollen. I wonder what is flowering nearby?

We put a mouse guard on this hive last week to help our smaller colony defend itself against would-be intruders, such as wasps, robber bees and mice. There was quite a lot of activity around the entrance showing that this hive is growing from strength to strength.

A mouse guard helps protect our bees in autumn and winter from would-be robbers and pests. You can see a little guard bee vigilantly peering out (pink arrow)

We closed the hive and topped up the feeder to keep our ladies happy and busy till next week.

Finally, I apologise in advance to my hive partner for the next photo…

These curious autumn spiders intrigue me. What are they?

Every autumn I am intrigued by these pretty-patterned spiders with enormous webs. What are they? I much prefer this spider to the big hairy sort that rampage like a lunatic around your house in September. This fellow wasn’t at all bothered when I poked a bright pink camera in his face.

This weekend we will be feeding our bees fumidil with their syrup – if I can just do the maths! I hope our ladies will still be hungry!

How do you get bee honey without bee babies?

'We're like Marmite, man. Love us or hate us' / image © Andrey Davidenko / 123RF

I was recently asked this question by friends: ‘How do you keep baby bees out of bee honey?’ At this time of year, when the honey crop is due, FAQs about beekeeping are popular. ‘I watched a nature program that showed bee larvae in honeycomb,’ said Damien, quite concerned. ‘Is it the same honeycomb that you use for honey?’

It is a good question: bees do make honeycomb both for raising brood and to store food. However, wily beekeepers manipulate bees to make sure only honey is harvested from the hive. Don’t worry, you are not spreading baby bees on your toast!

The hexagonal array of honeycomb is all the bees handiwork. / image © Andrey Davidenko / 123RF

People sometimes think that the honeycomb in hives is man-made. How could this geometrically-perfect hexagonal array be made by stripy little insects? But the bees do make it, because they are clever. They make the comb for bee babies and the comb for our honey.

Here are some secrets of the comb and how beekeepers get the honey bit.

#FAQ1: Why do bees make honeycomb?

Bees use honeycomb as a nursery, honey factory and food store. The queen lays eggs inside the cells, which hatch into white grub-like larvae. The larvae pupate and emerge as bees. Collectively, rows of larvae in honeycomb are called brood. Worker bees also use the cells in honeycomb to store nectar, which they convert to honey, and to store pollen, which they pack inside a cell by head-butting. Nectar, or honey, is a carbohydrate food source and pollen is a source of protein.

Honeybees head-butting pollen into cells. Pollen is a source of protein for bees. / image © Andrey Davidenko / 123RF

#FAQ2: How do bees make honeycomb?

Bees build honeycomb from wax secreted by their abdominal glands, which is passed along the legs to the mouth and moulded into hexagonal cells. The honeybee builds row upon row of geometric six-sided cells, each exactly the same size, in a precise interlocking hexagonal array.

#FAQ3: Why is honeycomb made of hexagons?

Marcus du Sautoy, on BBC’s The Code, explained why bees choose a hexagon rather than any other shape to build honeycomb. ‘The bees’ primary need is to store as much honey as they can, while using as little precious wax as possible,’ says Marcus. He describes honeycomb as an amazing piece of engineering, but asks why bees have evolved to produce this hexagonal pattern? ‘Actually they don’t have too many choices,’ explains Marcus.

The light shining through this honeycomb reveals the precise geometric sides of each hexagonal cell. / image © Olena Kornyeyeva / 123RF

To produce a regular-shaped interlocking network, bees can only choose three shapes: triangles, squares or hexagons. A hexagon requires the least amount of wax to build, which makes it the most economically efficient shape. ‘It is a solution that was only mathematically proven a few years ago. The hexagonal array is the most efficient storage solution the bees could have chosen,’ says Marcus. ‘Yet with a little help from evolution they worked it out for themselves millions of years ago.’

You can watch Marcus explore the mathematics of honeycomb in Behind the beehive on the BBC’s The Code.

#FAQ4: How do you keep baby bees out of the honey?

So how do beekeepers extract honeycomb that has only honey and not larvae or pollen? The answer is simple: by confining the queen to one area of the hive.

The queen is the egg-layer. She spends most of her life laying eggs inside the cells of honeycomb, which become female workers or male drones, or potentially a new queen. A beekeeper uses a ‘queen excluder’ to trap the queen inside the brood chamber of a hive.

A handy harmless queen excluder. The slots are big enough for workers to pass between but the queen is too large to get past.

This is a sheet of slotted plastic or a metal grid with holes large enough for worker bees to crawl through, but too small for the larger queen to pass. Unable to climb above the brood chamber, the queen cannot enter the main honey stores of the hive and lay eggs.

There are different types of hives, but most have a brood chamber (the nest containing the queen and larvae) and supers (boxes that store honey). The most common hive used in the UK is the National hive. Here’s one I built earlier.

This is the hive I built at New Year. You can see it is made of different-sized boxes. The deep bottom box is the brood chamber and the two shallow boxes above are the supers.

The queen excluder is placed over the brood box to keep the queen in the nest and prevent her from laying eggs in the honey stores. You don't want to eat honey with bits of baby bees, yuk!

With a queen excluder fitted between the brood chamber and supers, the queen can only lay eggs that hatch into larvae in the brood chamber. This leaves the supers baby-bee free and full of honey!

#FAQ5: Why do bees make bee-free honey?

So why do worker bees leave the cosy brood nest and the court of the queen to climb past the queen excluder into the supers and make us lovely bee-free honey? I want to believe it is out of the goodness of their tiny bee-sized hearts. Not true. It is all about instinct.

Honeybees have an instinctive drive to climb upwards and to fill whatever space they find with comb. If you place a super with empty frames on top of the brood, worker bees will instinctively climb up and start to build comb. The comb in the super is usually pollen-free too. Workers store this source of protein where it is most needed in the brood chamber.

Honeycomb showing capped and uncapped honey. Uncapped cells glisten with ripening nectar. Capped cells contain honey covered by white wax. Beekeepers harvest honey when all cells are capped. / image © Laurent Dambies / 123RF

So there you have it. That’s how beekeepers extract only honey-filled honeycomb and no mystery bits.

#FAQ6: How do you get the bees to leave the honey?

One final question remains. How do you get the worker bees out of supers so that you can nick their honey? In the height of summer, one hive is home to around 50–60,000 honeybees with many of these individuals busily working inside supers or guarding them. Beekeepers use a process called ‘clearing bees’ to make the bees leave the supers before the honey is taken off the hive.

I’ll cover clearing bees in my next post, which is all about the hunny! My hive partner, Emily, and I extracted the honey from our hive last weekend. You can read about our exploits in her Adventuresinbeeland’s blogHunny time and Bringing home the hunny.

This post is dedicated to Helen and Damien, who both enjoy ‘bee honey’.

All images on this post, with the exception of the hive, were taken from 123RF. Until I get a macro lens, you won’t see honeycomb as sharp with my pink camera!

Find out: How to extract honey

When the queen’s away the bees will play…

After waiting a week to find out what our bees did next, it rained. Then it poured. So it seemed the Mystery of the July Queens would have to wait.

Last week Emily and I made the unexpected discovery of five queen cells in Rose’s hive. The jury was out on whether our bees were planning to swarm or trying to replace Queen Rose who was MIA for a second week.

A break in the clouds came and we rushed to the apiary to find we were the only ones mad enough to visit the bees on such a blustery day. I was expecting to find very grumpy honeybees, because our little ladies don’t like the rain. Instead, we found them behaving quite strangely.

Someone forgot her umbrella – instead of flying in and out, our bees were clustered at the entrance of the hive out of the rain.

Emily thought they might be fanning their wings to create warm air vents, keeping the baby bees in the brood toasty and dry.

Fascinated, we lingered a little too long and forgot basic beekeeping 101 – don’t block the entrance of the hive. When we moved away there was a little dark cloud of bees hovering behind us, patiently waiting to enter the hive with their pollen loads. We made them wait in the rain, how awful!

We decided not to disturb Queen Rosemary’s hive in unsettled weather and moved on to Queen Rose’s hive. A ray of sunshine penetrated the dark canopy of the apiary, so we took a look inside hoping that our bees hadn’t swarmed.

Our ladies were there, along with a bright golden New Zealand intruder.

Can you spot the golden New Zealand honeybee among our darker British bees?

I suspect she is one of Albert’s bees who bribed her way into our hive with some good pollen.

Three of the five queen cells were no longer there. I can only imagine the dark turn of events during the week: a new queen, or two, hatched and tore down the cells of her rival sisters in an act of royal genocide. There was no sign of Rose and I suspect her crown has been passed. We’ll miss her – she was a good queen who gave us happy-tempered, hard-working bees. But such is life in the hive.

We found two remaining queen cells heavily covered in workers. I wondered if they were ‘taking down’ these cells, but Emily thought they might be trapping the unhatched queens as an insurance policy should the new queen not survive her mating flight. ‘Trapped queens “quack” in their cells,’ said Emily. ‘To tell the workers to let them out.’

It was then that we remembered beekeeping 101 again – don’t open a hive for a couple of weeks when you suspect a new queen has hatched. A hive inspection could upset a queen returning from her mating flight and, not settled in the hive, she may abscond. Drat! In our curiosity to see if our bees had swarmed or chosen supercedure, we forgot that. That’s why our bees have queens-in-waiting – as insurance against our blunders. Silly beekeepers!

As we finished our inspection we came across yet more strange behaviour. Look what our bees have done, the little weirdos!

A rainbow of pollen on the honeycomb (pink arrow) but why are our bees eating holes through the wax (blue arrows)?

They had eaten tiny little holes through the wax. They are not supposed to do that! Perfectly round, I caught a couple of workers peering at each other through a peephole like these were the best thing ever. Perhaps this is what happens while the queen is away – anarchy. Does anyone know why our bees would do this?

More rainbows of brightly coloured pollen in the honeycomb suggests where our bees get their honey. Blue pollen may be from poppies.

It's a bit blurry, but peer closely and you'll see a worker carrying a basket of blue pollen. This might be from a poppy.

As we closed the hive, someone sped past and dropped a red dollop of propolis on the frames we had just cleaned. The culprit was a blur.

Hey! We just cleaned that. The culprit is caught on camera.

The forecast for the rest of the weekend was rain and more rain, so Emily topped up the feeder with syrup and the usual suspects clambered excitedly to drink manna from heaven.

During our inspection, we noticed that some of our bees had white stripes on their thorax, which wouldn’t rub off with our fingers. We found this same phenomenon on bees flying into other hives at the apiary.

White-striped honeybees that have collected pollen and nectar from Himalayan balsam – more clues about the origins of the honey from our apiary!

When bees forage on Himalayan balsam the white pollen rubs their back and leaves a white stripe that they can’t clean off. This also happens to wasps. So if you see a bee or wasp flying around with a white stripe, you know what flower they have just visited.

Not to be confused with white-bottomed bumble bees.